Thursday, March 3, 2011

How Authoritarian Followers Think (part 1)

Our brains can store lots of inconsistent notions, and never lose a minute of sleep over these contradictions. High RWAs tend to have all sorts of illogical, self-contradictory, and widely refuted ideas rattling around in their brains, and never notice it. One reason is because they have mainly copied the beliefs of the authorities in their lives. They have not reflected critically on their beliefs as much as most people have.

Authoritarian followers are generally poor at critical thinking and self-reflection. They exhibit sloppy reasoning, compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, ethnocentrism and dogmatism – and this makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence and logic.

These deadly shortfalls of thinking make them susceptible to follow a tyrannical dictator. As Adolf Hitler said, “What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”

Highly Compartmentalized Minds

We all have some inconsistencies in our thinking, but authoritarians can stupefy you with the inconsistency of their ideas. This is because their ideas were just copied from trusted sources, and they seldom reflect critically on their world-view to see how well all the component parts fit together.

Blindness to Themselves

If you ask people how much integrity they have, a majority would say they have more than average. But, high RWAs pat themselves on the back and claim they have more than anyone else. They also claim to have no big faults and also claim that they are completely honest with themselves.

People who abound in integrity, who have no faults, and who are completely honest with themselves would seem ready for canonization! But, scientific evidence show that high RWAs have little integrity and self-awareness, and they tend to be highly defensive and run away from unpleasant truths about themselves more than most people do.

If you gave a lecture about right-wing authoritarians, any high RWA in the audience will likely think you are talking about someone else. However, they do tend to agree more than most people do with the statement, “I like to associate with people who have the same beliefs and values I do.” But, most of the time, they either think they are not all that different from others, or they think they are different in the opposite way from how they actually are. For example, they are sure that they are less self-righteous than most people are.

A Profound Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism means dividing the world up into in-groups and out-groups, and it is something most people do quite automatically.

Authoritarians see the world more sharply in terms of in-groups and out-groups than most people do, and are more likely to make statements such as, “If you’re not with us, then you’re against us.” There is no neutral ground in the highly ethnocentric mind.

This black/white outlook develops and is maintained from traveling in “tight circles” of like-minded people who almost never challenge their cherished beliefs. Most of us associate with people who agree with us on many issues. Birds of a feather tend to flock together. But, high RWAs shy away from people with different world-views from their own. And, they depend to a large degree on their in-group to validate their beliefs, whereas most people depend much more on evidence and logic.

As a path to truth, this amounts to tossing a coin or skipping on quicksand. It boils down to: “I know I’m right because the people who agree with me say I am.” The selective exposure to just like-minded people is one of the reasons high RWAs are more prejudice than most people, and their failure to realize this about themselves.

High RWAs place a high value on group loyalty and cohesiveness. Consider the following statements:

“A person should stick with those who think the way he does, and work together for their common beliefs. If we become truly united, acting with one mind on all issues, there is no difficulty we could not overcome. So, if you belong to an identifiable group, you should always be a faithful member of that group. Working side by side for a group goal and “sticking together” come what may are among the best things in life.”

Authoritarian followers usually agree with these notions more than most people do. Loyalty to their in-group ranks among the highest virtues, and members of the group who question its leaders or beliefs can quickly be seen as traitors.

You can sense the energy, commitment, submission and zeal that authoritarian followers are ready to give to their in-groups, and the satisfaction they would get from being a part of a powerful movement in which everyone thought the same way – like a column of army ants on the march.

The ethnocentrism of high RWAs makes them quite vulnerable to unscrupulous manipulators. High RWAs tend to ignore the many devious reasons why someone might lie and say something they find agreeable. They’re just glad to have another person agree with them.

Well, aren’t most people likely to trust someone who seems to agree with them?
Yes, but people differ enormously in gullibility. Low RWAs are suspicious of someone who agrees with them when they can see questionable motives might be at work. They pay attention to the circumstances in which others are operating. But authoritarians do not, when they like the message.

Authoritarian followers are highly suspicious of their many out-groups; but they are credulous to the point of self-delusion when it comes to their in-groups. The need for social reinforcement runs so deeply in authoritarians, they will believe someone who says what they want to hear even if you tell them they should not.

Suppose you are a completely unethical and power-hungry politician who will say whatever he has to say to get elected. High RWAs will open up their arms and wallets to you if you just sing their song, however poor your credibility.

The authoritarian follower is vulnerable to malevolent manipulation by chucking out critical thinking and prudence as the price for maintaining his/her beliefs. And the very last thing an authoritarian leader wants is for his followers to start thinking critically.

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